by Michael R. Allen
Make Pruitt-Igoe #1. The button’s message had an obvious irony by the time that a reporter held it to a camera in 1968. Yet as the new documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth makes clear, the fate of Pruitt-Igoe was intertwined with the fate of St. Louis. Few would have scorned a “Make St. Louis #1” button although its message in the 1960s would have been as naive as the wish for the 33 towers of Pruitt-Igoe.
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth plots the rise and fall of Pruitt-Igoe against a larger context of change in St. Louis. The film is particularly poignant in making clear that for the entire life span of Pruitt-Igoe, St. Louis was shrinking rapidly. Built at a higher population density than the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood they replaced, Pruitt-Igoe’s towers were built on the notion that the city would being growing, and that it would come to grips with the poverty of its residents.
Instead, St. Louis drained thousands of people and spent the 1950s and 1960s imposing a harsh and destructive spatial segregation on the region. If Pruitt-Igoe had a chance to be #1, it was a long shot. Besides, St. Louis itself didn’t fare much better.
This week The Pruitt-Igoe Myth screens at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, May 11 and at noon on Saturday, May 14 at the Tivoli Theater. Tickets are $10. The directors and former Pruitt-Igoe resident Sylvester Brown, Jr. will take questions after each screening.